#3: Rocco and his Brothers (1960)
The kiss at the end of Luchino Visconti’s magisterial Rocco and his Brothers (1960) is pure sweetness in an otherwise bitter study of social mobility.
Mother and four boys escape back-breaking agrarian life in the South, joining the eldest son in Milan. That makes five brothers: Vincenzo, Simone, Cirro, Rocco and Luca. The life of the eldest, Vincenzo, is dictated by his early marriage: estranged from his in-laws, he lives hand-to-mouth, away from his family, providing for his new son and wife. The others start from nothing, living on top of each other; they celebrate snow as it provides a few hours work, but they’re still dismissed as ‘lazy Southerners’.
Simone wins fame in the boxing ring. He falls in (unreciprocated) love for a sex worker, Nadia, and then descends into a spiral of drink, violence and hatred. He morphs from happy-go-lucky to supercilious to furious self-pity.
Rocco transforms too, from a boy with nothing to say, who hates to hold your gaze, to a man who holds it too long, steadied by the gravity of his own moral convictions. He also has a relationship (this time reciprocated) with Nadia. In one of the film’s key scenes, the two meet by chance. Rocco has been serving in the army; Nadia has been serving a sixteen-month prison sentence for soliciting. When she asks if this bothers him, Rocco tells of his convict friends back home – young men, ‘poorer than you can imagine’, who rebelled when forced to farm arid land. Prisoners, sex workers, soldiers, farmers, agitators – they’re all free and they’re all conscripts, one way or another.
Ciro, embracing in the above still, is the most stable brother. He cares for mother, while studying to become an engineer, eventually getting a good job at the Alfa Romeo factory. Ciro’s happiness is inextricably linked to his place in this crowd. The crowd represents stability and the rewards of hard work. They’re also a powerful collective, the same workers who, throughout the next decade, would be at the militant forefront of a new tendency in the Italian workers movement, operaismo. It’s hard to ignore the paternalism of Visconti’s communism here, where the ‘good worker’ is the only brother whose love survives. But this is still a moving scene. Ciro’s fiancee runs through the streams of overalled men calling his name. ‘I came to tell you I love you’. ‘I love you too… forever’. Ciro looks around – furtive as a child – and kisses her.